Building the Model 21st Century Youth Exchange Program? Piece of Cake.
On December 12, 2012, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program will host a world-wide virtual Kickoff Party commemorating its 10th year. iEARN-USA is excited to join the event, which will will honor the 6,000 plus alumni community from 45 countries including the United States, host families, host schools, host communities, current YES students, U.S. and overseas partner organizations who administer and implement YES, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Congress, especially the late Senator Kennedy and Senator Richard Lugar.
The YES Program is a program sponsored by the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It brings high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend an academic year in the US. iEARN has been a partner since the program’s first year, and is currently responsible for recruitment of students from Arab-Israel, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Liberia, Mali, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Suriname. IEARN also manages the YES web site and provides other technology support for the program.
Specifically, that the program would, 1) leverage communication technologies and video storytelling as important tools for participants and alumni to enhance and deepen their exchange experience; and, 2) encourage community service as a core element of the program. The critical need to engage the Muslim world aside, I believe the focus on embracing new collaborative technologies, like iEARN’s online platforms and ExchangesConnect’s online forum, social media, and community service has distinguished the YES Program as the model youth exchange program for the beginning of this century.
Like all exchange programs, YES has had its disappointments and heartbreaks. Tens of thousands of high quality applicants are turned away each year. Travel is expensive and visa processing in most YES countries is a long slog. The investment in the YES Program and other innovative programs, however, is critical. YES is clearly meeting the needs of young people in the region. YES is also building the people-to-people relationships so needed today. There is also a certain something about the program that is hard to pin down. Something extraordinary happens when tech-savvy, community-service driven young people from predominantly Muslim countries, several with special needs, live for a year in the homes of American families and study at American high schools. Something extraordinary happens to the host families.